STARKVILLE, Miss.--Millions of Southerners are enduring chronic pain with little complaint these days as acute aches and ailments take a devastating toll on their personal lives.
Call it Southern stoicism or a penchant for misery, many of the suffering horde seem to accept pain as a "normal part of life" while an assortment of maladies inflict havoc on their work, sex life, sleep, mental health, play, and relationships with others.
The findings are part of a newly released study by Mississippi State's Social Science Research Center, directed by Art Cosby. The university report is titled "Social and Cultural Dimensions of Pain: An Overview of the Southern Pain Prevalence Study 2004."
More than 3,600 adults in six Southern states answered fundamental questions about pain and pain management during the 2004 study, conducted in partnership with the Mid-South Division of the American Cancer Society. In addition to Mississippi, targeted states included Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
Letitia Thompson of the American Cancer Society said the pain study was important "because the management of cancer pain occurs in a social and cultural context where understanding of prevalence levels, attitudes and beliefs can either enhance or hinder the treatment of patients."
The researchers found pain to be "pervasive" among Southern adults surveyed.
"Many individuals were experiencing chronic pain, and substantial numbers judged their pain to be either moderate or severe," they said. "When this data was projected to the six-state region, it was clear that several million individuals are living with chronic pain conditions."
Their report also noted: "About one-half of respondents (49 percent) said their pain interfered with their sexual relations."
The study examined beliefs and attitudes people hold about pain and pain management, especially those that might be detrimental to their health and well-being.
"Although the impacts of pain on everyday life are very complex, one inescapable conclusion from the data is that pain has a broad-based effect upon the productivity of individuals and, hence, the wealth of society," the researchers concluded.
Those surveyed also were asked why pain may be tolerated by many persons when modern experts say pain nearly always can be controlled or eliminated.
"The survey results point to a number of widely held beliefs and attitudes that appear to result in major barriers to reducing or eliminating pain, including the extent to which pain is seen as a 'normal part of life' to be endured," the report stated.
The study indicated most people experiencing moderate to severe pain express a greater satisfaction with health-care providers than with the effectiveness of their pain management. It also found, however, that the willingness of sufferers to risk dependency on or addiction to pain-reducing medication increased with the severity of the pain.
Although experience with cancer was not central to the survey, the study found that cancer and malignancy had touched the lives of most of the families involved.
"A significant minority of the respondents (9 percent) reported they have been, at some point in their life, personally diagnosed with a cancer condition," the researchers observed.
The survey was conducted through the SSRC's Survey Research Laboratory, which is directed by Wolfgang Freese.
The pain research group was led by Cosby and included Tonya Thornton-Neaves, Lynne Rich, Robert C. McMillen, Missy Matta, Lesli Hutchins, Julia Cathcart, Maria Abregu, and Holli C. Hitt.
Other participants were Dr. Karen Koch of the North Mississippi Medical Center; Dr. Steve Parvin, Center for Breast Health and Imaging in Starkville; Dr. Todd Sitzman, Advanced Pain Therapy at Forrest General Hospital's Cancer Center of Excellence in Hattiesburg; and Dr. Eric Pearson, Total Pain Care LLC in Meridian.
"More complex analyses concerning such questions as racial and gender disparities in pain prevalence and pain management, the association between obesity and pain, and the effects of tobacco smoking on the prevalence of pain are both possible and under way," said Cosby.
Some of the findings in this report included:
--Well over half of those reporting pain (55 percent) said they experienced pain every day, and 75 percent reported having pain several times a week.
--Seniors aged 65 or older were twice as likely (66 percent) to report pain on a daily basis as young adults aged 18 to 24 (32 percent).
--Well over half of those reporting pain (56 percent) felt they had a high tolerance for pain, with 34 percent stating their pain tolerance was moderate and only 9 percent considering themselves to have a low tolerance.
--Back pain was, by a considerable margin, the most frequent source of pain (52 percent), while leg and knee pain were reported by 34 percent of respondents; shoulder and arm pain, 16 percent; neck pain, 14 percent; headaches, 13 percent; hip pain, 12 percent; whole body pain, 11 percent; foot pain, 9 percent; and stomach and abdominal pain, 7 percent.
--Although pain impacts varied from individual to individual, they included almost every aspect of daily life: sleep, leisure activities, work, mental health, sexual relations, and relationships with friends and loved ones.
--A common belief among the respondents (62 percent) is the general notion that pain is a normal part of life and, presumably, must be endured.
--One in five respondents (19 percent) indicated they believed "good patients don't complain to their doctors about pain."
--Over-the-counter products such as aspirin or ibuprofen were cited as the most common treatments used for pain (67 percent).
NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information, contact Dr. Art Cosby at (662) 325-7127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see http://www.msstate.edu/.